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Published: Friday, 6/11/2010

Movie review: 'Karate Kid' ** 1/2


There are two reasons a remake of 'The Karate Kid' is hitting movie screens today.

One, to tap into an apparently unquenchable thirst for nostalgia by those who saw the original version in 1984.

Two, the Will Smith family. He co-produced 'The Karate Kid 'with his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and the film happens to star their son, Jaden.

On both counts, however, the movie still comes up short.

As pure flashback entertainment, 'The Karate Kid' isn't as much fun as you remember the first one to be, and suffers all the more because there's nothing fresh or inventive about it. New faces (Jaden and Jackie Chan) and new places (the film is set almost entirely in China) do not make for a better film.

And as a Smith family vanity project, Jaden is miscast as the Karate Kid, 12-year-old Dre Parker. Jaden is certainly a capable enough actor in the role, but he's too young at nearly 12, and too small to be believable, especially when fighting opponents nearly twice his age and size.

At least the first Karate Kid thought this through and cast the protagonist as a high school kid with a then-22-year-old Ralph Macchio in the title role.

Otherwise, the remake follows the same basic outline of the original: newcomer doesn't fit in, runs into trouble with karate-bullying schoolmates, turns to a wise and quiet mentor, Mr. Han (Chan), for guidance and karate lessons, and learns as much about life as he does self-defense. And let's not forget the girl he crushes for and eventually wins, Meiying (Wenwen Han), or the movie's paper-thin villain, the misguided sensei Master Li (Rongguang Yu).

Having Chan as the karate master does represent an upgrade from Pat Morita as Mr. Kesuke Miyagi in terms of martial arts, though the film only takes advantage of his abilities once, in a scene where Mr. Han quickly dispenses of Dre's bullies by using their skills against them.

Other than Chan, the biggest assets to the new 'Karate Kid' are more menacing bullies, more spectacular karate (and with the more spectacular comes the more unbelievable), and more scenery to gawk at. (There's a reason the movie was allowed to film in China, and it's not because the camera crews captured an overpopulated, over-polluted countryside.)

Despite the upgrades, this 'Karate Kid' doesn't offer the goofy fun or heart of the original.

There are no soon-to-be cultural phrases to latch onto, such as "wax on, wax off" from the first film. Instead we're treated to scenes of Dre taking his jacket off, dropping it on the floor and picking it up, then tossing it on a hook. Somehow this translates to advanced karate moves and self-discipline, but it's still not as catchy as "wax on, wax off."

It also doesn't help that this 'Karate Kid' was directed by Harald Zwart, who gave us 'The Pink Panther 2,' compared to the original 'Karate Kid''s director, John G. Avildsen, who gave us the first 'Rocky.'

Avildsen's version was a sweet film that somehow made a well-worn tale of overcoming odds fresh and surprising. Zwart's updated 'Karate Kid,' though, reeks of marketing and demographic appeal, and all the sundry film studio boardroom things that make movies seem less like art and more like big business.

'The Karate Kid' 2010 isn't a bad movie, and anyone too young to have seen the original will probably enjoy it. The film hits all the right notes, but it seems more calculated than authentic. This 'Karate Kid' isn't so much about a boy and his mentor's friendship as it is a cash cow designed to capitalize on our feelings for the first movie.

Contact Kirk Baird at


or 419-724-6734.

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